Canine heroism : Remarkable dogs

Phoebe the Basset Hound was trapped in an old cistern and would surely have died had it not been for her canine buddy, Tillie, a Golden Retriever. Tillie stayed for a week at the edge of the deep cistern until help came to rescue her.

Examples of such apparently altruistic behaviour in dogs are not hard to come by. Here’s four examples.


Dog of the Year, 2006, Honey, saved her owner from an SUV accident. Both ended up in a deep ravine. The owner managed to release the dog from the wreckage and the 5 month old English Cocker Spaniel somehow managed to get the attention of a man a half-mile away. Honey led the man to the scene of the accident. Honey’s actions almost certainly saved her owner’s life.


In 2004, a Golden Retriever called Brutis grabbed a venomous coral snake which approached a young child. Brutis was bitten by the snake and nearly died. Luckily he returned to full health in time to be flown to Los Angeles and presented with the National Hero Dog award.

tillieguardsherfriendTillie stayed by her trapped friend Phoebes side for a week before her attempts to get help finally worked. The cistern has since been filled in.
(Photo : Vashon Island Pet Protectors/Facebook)


Nyla the dog risked her life to save her owner, Sheila, from a fire. Sheila’s home went up in flames and she found herself engulfed in smoke. She could not see her hand in front of her face. By barking whenever her owner lost track, Nyla guided Shiela to the nearest door. Sheila’s home including everything she owned was consumed by the flames. Thanks to Nyla’s courage however, Shiela was alive and well.

Sasha: Winner of the Victoria Cross

Sometimes specially trained dogs are recognised for saving lives in the course of the work they and their handlers do.

Yellow Labrador, Sasha, was an army sniffer dog. She and her handler died in an ambush while on active service in Afghanistan. Sasha was awarded the animal Victoria Cross in recognition of the numerous lives she saved by sniffing out hidden weapons and boobytrap bombs in Helmand province.

Animal Assisted Therapy

From earliest times mankind has had an affinity with certain animals. The deep bonds that can be formed with our pets for example – horses, cats and dogs make good examples – are well known to us all. And we are all familiar with the work of police and blind dogs.


Animals are used across the world to ease the discomfort of people in difficulty, from prisoners, to the occupants of nursing homes and hospitals for the mentally ill. Many specially trained dogs – known as Assistance dogs effectively extend their owners range of abilities where these are severely curtailed.

One particular case of a retriever called JJ has recently been widely reported on the Internet. JJ comforts the dying at an Oregon hospice. An associated video (see link below) has gone viral, with, by August of 2015, over 200,000 hits recorded.

This field in general – where animals are used to improve the lives of humans –  is called Animal-Assisted Therapy. It is a way to motivate patients to stay active. There are three broad stages.

Initial Assessment

The patient and therapist together assess needs. After that the animal is introduced to the patient and a rapport is built up between them.

Bonding through motor skills

Developing a bond between the animal and client by developing motor skills. This might be as simple as teaching the patient how to feed or groom the animal. If all goes well at this stage then spoken commands are introduced.

The value of such therapy comes from the increased levels of activity – simple activities like walking to the cupboard to get food for the animal or getting water from the tap for the animal to drink.

And at a deeper, psychological level, practitioners find that the greater the patient’s social interaction with the animals, the better the social interactions with adults and children in everyday life.

Watching Brief

The ultimate goals of Animal Assisted Therapies differ from individual to individual. However, one major goal of all such therapies is to reach a level of interactivity between patient and animal which is mirrored in real life: When the patient has become comfortable with people in the same way that they have become comfortable with their animals a major behavioural milestone has been reached.

About Goldens

The breed first appeared in 1920. Its members instinctively love water. Their coats are naturally water resistant. They are intelligent, fun-loving and friendly gun dogs bred to retrieve wildfowl undamaged from water during hunting parties. They are golden retrievers. One of the world’s favourite breeds.

Golden retrievers make excellent hearing dogs for the deaf and guide dogs for the blind. They provide valuable support for search and rescue operations, can be wonderful for animal assisted therapy and have proved highly competent in detecting drugs and explosives.

golden in the sun

The golden retriever is a long-haired breed and this can occasionally cause some owners concern when their goldens start to shed all over the house but if brushed regularly this effect can be minimised. The coat is one thing, but there are other issues to watch out for when considering this breed (but bear in mind that these points could apply to many medium sized, fun loving and intelligent dog breeds)

  • They need a lot of exercise. An adult can need at least two hours a day some authorities claim (puppy bones are still growing and so their exercise should be minimal).
  • When young, they jump up enthusiastically
  • They have a tendency to chew on things and carry them around (quite endearing if it is their favourite toy – not so much if it is your sofa or expensive shoes!)
  • You may notice a pungent, possibly unpleasant, doggy smell

You should note that, as with most established breeds, they do have some health issues. A survey of golden retrievers by the UK Kennel Club, found that more deaths were due to cancer than anything else. Also reported in the survey is an  average age for how long a golden retriever may live (12 years and 3 months – the oldest recorded in that particular survey was 17 years and 3 months). Golden retrievers also quite commonly suffer from issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia.

And as if that wasn’t enough to keep you awake at night, other conditions include heart conditions and ligament rupture, epilepsy, cataracts and other eye conditions – but all breeds have some particular health issues associated with them don’t they?

For many existing owners, the enchanting personality of this family-friendly breed, far outweigh the potential health and other issues and the time they have together will be some of most rewarding.

Do Golden Retrievers Shed?

The golden retriever is a long-haired breed and prospective owners often ask whether they shed. The brutal answer is yes, copiously! Buyer beware. If your home is a shrine to spotlessness, perhaps you should consider a different breed.

Golden retrievers shed hair all the time. Twice each year this shedding is profuse. Brace yourself because it is pretty certain that there will be hair everywhere (with the possible exception of the attic).


This shedding relates to the function for which the dogs have been bred. Because they spend time in water, they are double-coated. They have a water-resistant topcoat of long wavy hair, and an undercoat which is dense and wooly. The undercoat keeps them warm in cold water and throughout the winter. It is this undercoat that causes the shedding problem – it grows during the winter and is shed in the spring.

If you still want a golden retriever despite the hair problem – and there is so much to commend these dogs (it is no accident that they are one of the most popular breeds in the world) – you can mitigate the worst effects with grooming.

Golden retrievers should be brushed daily to avoid matting. In addition, the use of an undercoat rake will make a big difference. This tool is designed to remove the dead undercoat entirely, though be prepared for a lot of hair when you brush the first few times. Once you’ve removed the undercoat, the additional daily use of a porcupine bristle brush should greatly reduce hair shedding and your dog will have a beautiful coat.